What Will It Take To Get The “Strasburg Shutdown” Haters to Finally Shut Up?

stephen-strasburg-nats

For the record, I was on board with GM Mike Rizzo’s decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg in 2012 (though as a season ticket holder who experienced the soaring high of  Werth’s Game 4 home run and the crushing disappointment the very next day, I’ll admit I wasn’t especially happy about it).  Not only was Strasburg coming back from Tommy John surgery, but his 160 innings pitched was ALREADY nearly 40 more than he had thrown in any season as a professional.  Stras was also showing signs of wearing down as September rolled around that year–in his last three starts he posted an ERA of 6.43.

Would the Nats have beaten the Cardinals has Stras been in the rotation?  Well, say he wins Game 1, and then Game 2 follows the same script–Gio walks the whole stadium but the Nats somehow pull out a win.  Then Z-nn and Jackson would have had their own bad outings in Games 3 & 4 instead of Games 2 & 3 (Detwiler would have been in the pen), so the series likely would have gone to Game 5 anyway.  Is a way-overextended Stras then better able than Gio was to hold the Cardinals down after getting the early 6-0 lead?  Does Z-nn throw smoke in the 7th inning as he did in 7th inning of Game 4 of the real series?  Does that then mean Clippard and Storen (or maybe even somebody else) get to protect a 7-1 lead instead of a 7-4 lead, resulting in an easy win instead of a crushing defeat?  We’ll never know.

What we do know is that the Nats chose not to risk re-injuring Strasburg, and subsequently he was available to be a horse this year, starting 33 games so far and throwing 209 innings already.  His 235 Ks lead the NL and his recent dominance (1.34 ERA, 33 Ks, 2 BBs in his last 5 starts), suggest an evolving ace who could match Clayton Kershaw or Adam Wainwright pitch for pitch in the NLCS, assuming the Nats reach the second round of the playoffs.

The haters claimed that championship chances come along so rarely that a team needs to go “all in” every time one comes along.  As it has turned out, the championship “window” for this current group of Nats’ players is likely to be framed at 2012-2015 before free agency defections begin to force some retooling (not to say they won’t still have enough talent to at least contend in Strasburg’s “contract season” of 2016, assuming he’s not traded).  They are now in year 3 of that window and so far have two divisional titles to show for it (which, BTW, is one more outright division title than the franchise had won its first 42 years of existence).  The shutdown haters piled on last year when the team missed the playoffs, but as October 2014 approaches the Nats are right where GM Mike Rizzo likely figured they would be when he made the decision to protect his most important asset two years ago–not only division title winners, but a favorite to get to the World Series.

Though it still isn’t really fair, I believe nothing short of a World Series appearance with Strasburg having a dominant postseason run will finally quiet those critics down.   And if the Nats win it all, Rizzo would then be within his rights to go around to every sportswriter and teevee shouting head who dog piled on him for the shutdown and yell, “in your FACE!”

Tomorrow I’m going to discuss two other teams who soon could possibly face the very same dilemma the Nats did in 2012.  If so, will the “debate” be so heated then?

2 thoughts on “What Will It Take To Get The “Strasburg Shutdown” Haters to Finally Shut Up?

  1. Todd Boss

    I offer two additional points on this issue:

    1. The same season the Nats shut down Strasburg, the Braves brought along Medlen in the bullpen and smarty-pants backseat driver bloggers said that the Braves were “doing it right” and that should have been the model for Strasburg’s usage.

    to that I offer the following counter points:
    – If Medlen had been one of the 5 best starters in spring training, he would have been in the rotation from the start just like Strasburg; it was only after other starters for the Braves went down with injury or poor performance that he was inserted into the rotation and had his amazing 2-month run.
    – And, gee, don’t you think the Braves would have rather won the division instead of getting to the Wild Card game (where they lost)? If you are telling me that the Braves purposely put a starter who was going to be that effective in the bullpen for 4 months of the season so they could ride him for the final two months … I call bullsh*t. If they knew Medlen was going to be a 1.50 ERA starter, he would have been in the rotation from day one. You play to win.
    – And, by the way, Strasburg is nearly leading the league in innings pitched two years onward….where is Medlen? Oh yeah, that’s right, he’s re-blown his elbow. Do you think maybe his usage in 2012 and 2013 had something to do with it? He goes from 0 to 138 in a mixed role to 197 innings in three years; that’s a HUGE increase from 2012 to 2013 for a guy coming off injury. 50% inning workload increase. Meanwhile the Nats managed Stras’ workload, going from 159 to 183 to his current 209 with more projected for 2014. Much more managed innings increase.

    You don’t hear anyone apologizing for calling the Nationals idiots for not doing what the Braves did with Medlen now, are you?

    2. In 2013, the Cardinals absolutely shut down Shelby Miller on an innings limit. They didn’t announce it, they didn’t even tell Miller about it (classy). They just did it. I worte about it in November of 2013 here: http://www.nationalsarmrace.com/?p=8062. …

    You cannot look at anything with Miller’s 2013 performance or his last month or his potential matchups and say he deserved to get shut down. Did the Cardinals get killed in the media? Nope. Just 180-degree difference to the way the Nats got crushed for the Strasburg situation.

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    1. Karl Kolchak Post author

      Yep–which is the same thing I expect to happen with the two examples I am going to cite in tomorrow’s post. Looks to me like the haters are quietly changing their tune without first admitting they got it wrong on Strasburg.

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